Here are two words that should chill you: smart meters. These digital utility meters are designed to provide real-time statistics to energy providers, thus allowing them to monitor consumer usage 24-hours a day – and charge differential rates accordingly.
An ambitious £11bn scheme to deliver new gas and electricity meters to every home and business in the UK, the single largest government IT project in history, is currently in the consultation period. Already plenty of alarm bells are ringing at the prospect. As they should.
The UK Smart Meter programme has the hugely ambitious target of installing 100 million new pieces of kit nationally by 2020. It was initiated by Ed Miliband as energy secretary in 2008, following an EU directive and confirmed by the Coalition Agreement in 2010.
Earlier this month a government committee flagged that the programme was in danger of becoming a “costly failure”. A report by the Energy and Climate Change Committee said it does “not believe” plans to install the devices in homes and businesses by 2020 will ever be achieved.
“Without a significant and immediate change to the government’s present approach, which aims to install smart meters in 100 per cent of UK homes and businesses, the programme runs the risk of falling far short of expectations. At worst, it could prove to be a costly failure,” said Tim Yeo MP, chair of the committee.
Capita, which runs the Data Communications Company (DCC) responsible for rolling out the programme, added “there is no feasible way to maintain the time-scales”. So why is the government continuing with the plan? Because this is an EU-mandated policy with no opt-out clause.
On Friday the Institute of Directors (IoD) added its warning that the programme is a government IT disaster in the making. The IoD called for the entire smart meter scheme to be “halted, altered or scrapped” to avoid an “unjustified, over-engineered and expensive mistake”.
In a major new report entitled “Not too clever: will Smart Meters be the next Government IT disaster?” the IoD brands the devices “unwanted by consumers, devoid of credibility and mind-blowingly expensive”. The business group calls on an incoming government to review the project and consider a fresh start.
The report’s author, Dan Lewis, Senior Infrastructure Advisor at the IoD, says the political consensus driving smart meter installation is “a conspiracy of silence among politicians in thrall to big ideas and even bigger budgets”.
Lewis continues: “The professed aims of the Smart Meter programme are laudable, and we all recognise the benefits of reducing consumption and increasing energy awareness. But there is little credible evidence to suggest that a scheme of this size and complexity will achieve those goals.”
The IoD report highlights a number of key concerns:
Despite the EU Directive, 11 nations have ruled out electricity smart meters and only 5 are pushing ahead with the 2020 target for gas meters. In contrast, as is so often is the case, the UK has gold-plated the Directive.
The government refuses to publish any of the reports on the programme by the Major Projects Authority.
The cost-benefit analysis conducted by the Department for Energy and Climate Change is so heavily redacted as to be almost unreadable.
The Smart Meter network would be vulnerable to cyber-attack and disruption.
Introducing time-of-day pricing to shift consumer demand will only work with price increases that are not politically realistic. Retail consumers really can’t change their energy consumption that much.
If anyone is interested in a look at where the UK is heading, unless the scheme is stopped, just consider what effect the forced installation of smart meters has had on consumers in Ontario, Canada.
Right now tens of thousands of smart meters are being removed from homes in the province because of the propensity of the units to spontaneously combust. Egregious errors and baffling bills have also plagued smart meters, with the Ontario ombudsman reporting billing complaints doubling in the space of just 12 months.
All that is coming your way at the gallop, as the old legacy parties are committed to completing the rollout by 2020 despite all mounting advice to the contrary.
Which shows just goes to show there’s no fool like an old fool.